New Zealand fights to save its flightless national bird

The Department of Conservation estimates there are only around 70,000 wild kiwi left in the country

By AFP

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This photo taken on April 12, 2023 shows a member of the Capital Kiwi Project team holding a male kiwi named Atarangi after changing out a transmitter placed on the bird's leg before re-release into the wild on Tawa Hill, Terawhiti Station in Wellington. — AFP file
This photo taken on April 12, 2023 shows a member of the Capital Kiwi Project team holding a male kiwi named Atarangi after changing out a transmitter placed on the bird's leg before re-release into the wild on Tawa Hill, Terawhiti Station in Wellington. — AFP file

Published: Sat 29 Apr 2023, 2:59 PM

Last updated: Sat 29 Apr 2023, 3:00 PM

New Zealand's treasured kiwi birds are shuffling around Wellington's verdant hills for the first time in a century, after a drive to eliminate invasive predators from the capital's surrounds.

Visitors to New Zealand a millennium ago would have encountered a bona fide "birdtopia" -- islands teeming with feathered creatures fluttering through life unaware that mammalian predators existed.

The arrival of Polynesian voyagers in the 1200s and Europeans a few hundred years later changed all that.

Rats picked off snipe-rails and petrels, mice chewed through all the seeds and berries they could find, leaving little for native birds to peck on.

Possums -- introduced for fur -- stripped trees bare. Rabbits bred like, well, rabbits, devouring meadows and paddocks alike.

Heaping disaster upon disaster, stoats were introduced to kill the rabbits but instead killed wrens, thrushes, owls and quails.

The population of native flightless birds like the kakapo and kiwi plummeted.

The Department of Conservation estimates there are only around 70,000 wild kiwi left in New Zealand.

Despite the bird being a beloved national symbol, few New Zealanders have seen one in the wild.

However, numbers are rising again thanks to more than 90 community initiatives working nationwide to protect them.

One such group is The Capital Kiwi Project, a charitable trust backed by millions of dollars from government grants and private donations.

- Special connection -

"Ever since people came to New Zealand, we have had a special connection to the kiwi," founder and project leader Paul Ward told AFP.

"They are central to Maori myth. Our sports teams, our rugby league teams, our defence force and, even when we go overseas, we are known as kiwis.

"They are tough, resilient, adaptable, all values we think of as New Zealanders, but most of us have never seen a kiwi before."

Ward estimates wild kiwi last roamed the Wellington area more than a century ago.


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